30 November 2011

One year on...

I first posted on this blog one year ago today. It was in the middle of the storm over tuition fees and I was bombastic enough to think giving advice to Vince Cable was a good idea.

The post had just nine page views - mainly my own trying to work out formatting and other things.

Well since then I've written a further 267 posts (including this one) and the blog has had more than 26,000 page views - and I'm pretty sure they can't all be my own.

29 November 2011

Time for a parents' strike?

With most schools closed tomorrow many millions of parents will not be able to go to work. While an extra day at home with the little darlings will be welcomed by many, those with jobs without the long term security of the public sector or the guaranteed publicly subsidised pensions (whether gold plated or not), or those self employed will be the big losers with another productive day wiped out by the selfish actions of the public sector unions.

The unions argue that their members are paying the price for bailing out the banks - which is simply untrue. Around half the deficit was caused by propping up the banks - the other the other half (the structural deficit) was spent by Brown, Balls and co on things like NHS computers that didn’t work, management consultants, ID cards, providing handouts to their client voters condemning them to dependency and the poverty trap and helping to crowd out entrepreneurialism.

So given the huge public sector spending splurge of the previous government - unfunded by current taxation - retrenchment was always going to be painful for the public sector - just as the crash of 2008-10 was very painful for the private sector.

The leadership of the public sector unions serve their members badly by calling these selfish, politically motivated strikes. As a result they will make things worse rather than better for their members in the long term.

The good will of parents (and no doubt other hit by these strikes) is running out - if teachers persist in disrupting children's education - parents who provide a huge financial and other commitment to the smooth running of most schools may start to feel less inclined to support teachers in their jobs.

At my childrens' schools parents are happy to volunteer in class rooms, talk to children about their experiences help with school trips and generally make life easier for pupils and teachers alike. The Parent School Association raises thousands of pounds each year for things like playground equipment, sports equipment, classroom pets and equipment, visits to school by authors, artists and musicians etc. Yes it provides a more interesting and diverse curriculum for the kids - it also makes the job of teaching them more rewarding.

So if this latest round of industrial foolishness causes fewer parents to participate in their schools (even if it is just to make up the pay lost through taking leave to cover the strike) teachers will lose out too.

So it's time for the trots at the top of the teaching unions to accept the inevitable, stop their undergraduate posturing and agree a deal that protects their members as best they can in harsh economic conditions and encourages a more benign view of the profession from parents (well from this one at least).

Glum councillors website is back

The Glum councillors website which features Britain's councillors and campaigners pointing at things and looking down hearted has recently started posting new material after going a bit quiet over the summer.

However one can't help noticing just how scruffy the councillors are in the more recent postings - surely the UK's elected representatives should take a bit of pride in being glum?

25 November 2011

Friday favourite 34

Returning to Old Reekie's finest punk band - the Rezillos. Here they are performing on the Peter Cook inspired Revolver ITV show from 1978. According to Wikipedia only 8 shows were ever made and the show was first moved to a graveyard slot and then dropped because of its then controversial focus on punk. Enjoy.

Fenton makes Hollywood blockbuster...

The internet sensation that is badly behaved labrador Fenton/Benton has spawned a number of spin-offs. This one is one of the best...

24 November 2011

Worst football team ends 20 year losing streak...

American Samoa have finally won a game of football - defeating Tonga 2-1. The Beeb has the report.

American Samoa hold the record for the biggest ever international defeat 31-0 to the not exactly great (in football terms) Australia. That's only 5 short of the most one sided match in history 36-0 Arbroath v Bon-Accord - an Aberdeen cricket team in the Scottish cup of 1885. On the same day another Aberdeen team went down 35-0 to Dundee Harp - in probably the worst day for Aberdeen football.

22 November 2011

Will Coombe Vale see Zac's jackets and scooters reappear?

Coombe Vale is the first electoral contest in the Richmond Park constituency since the general election when Zac Goldsmith narrowly defeated Lib Dem Susan Kramer.

Goldsmith immediately got into to trouble over his election expenses, with an official Electoral Commission investigation concluding:

"...we consider that the way in which some election costs were apportioned between Mr Goldsmith's Parliamentary campaign and the concurrent local government election campaign was not consistent with the Commission's guidance or good practice. Had the costs been apportioned in a way more consistent with our guidance, Mr Goldsmith would have exceeded the spending limit..."

The Commission estimated that Goldsmith overspent by nearly £1,000 in the so called 'short campaign' - the period from the dissolution of Parliament to polling day. However as they they felt it was due to incompetence rather than intent and it wasn't suffciently serious they somewhat bizarrely did not refer his case to the police for prosecution.

In their investigation the Commission somewhat controversially excluded two high profile campaign accessories - a large number of bright blue jackets emblazoned with 'I back Zac' and four electric delivery scooters. Their rationale was that these had been purchased by the Conservative association, with the jackets having removable stickers and the scooters being hired by the campaign on a daily basis. The report can be found here.

Zac's jackets and scooters on display outside his then HQ. Photo by Kingston Guardian.

So, given Richmond Park Conservative Association has invested several thousand pounds in these jackets and scooters, one can assume they will play a prominent part in the Coombe Vale by-election. We'll see...

21 November 2011

Charting the rise and fall of Nick Clegg...

An interesting academic take on recent history of Nick Clegg has been published by the LSE.

However I disagree with their fundamental point that Clegg appears to some sort of a victim of events outwith his control and a focus on personalities rather than policy. Clegg's fall (which has brought the Lib Dems down with him) are almost entirely of his own making and failure to communicate Liberal values and Lib Dem priorities in the first six to nine months of the coalition.

The widely held view that Clegg is some sort of lapdog to Cameron is entirely down to the strategy of 'owning the coalition' in the interest of economic stability in the early months of the coalition and the failure to communicate any sort of position over student support. That ground hasn't been made up - in fact the party's position has slipped - since a more argumentative position has been adopted by the party. The public rightly view this as a contrived reaction to the near wipeout the party faced at the polls last May.

But Clegg can turn his ratings (and therefore the party's) around. Earlier this year I carried out some focus group market research for the party in the north of England. The participants were clear that almost all the good will shown to Clegg in the 2010 election had now gone. He wasn’t seen to add anything distinctive to an essentially Conservative government.

But what these voters needed from Clegg and the party was a few clear messages about what the Lib Dems have and will achieve in government – along the lines of the £10,000 tax threshold. They would rather see Liberal Democrat ministers talking about what they are trying to achieve in government rather than justifying essentially Conservative spending cuts.

18 November 2011

Friday favourite 33

Tomorrow is the 35th anniversary of the release in the UK of the Rutles seminal 'Tragical History Tour' album - even though it had been released in the US nine years earlier. It marked the start of the band's decline, following the departure of their long time manager and confidant Leggy Mountbatten who had tragically accepted a teaching post in Australia. It was rightly panned by the critics and the official Rutles site describes the concept as 'not the stongest idea for a Rutles film, four Oxford History Professors on a walking tour of English Tea Shops'.

Just over two years later irreconcilable differences saw the band who had inspired both the Beatles and the Stones split for good.

But here they are at their pomp at the Che Stadium in New York in 1965:

Assad faces end game

With Syria facing increasing isolation from its Arab neighbours, as well as the international community and now increasing opposition domestically - President Bashar al-Assad's days are surely numbered. The only question being how much of a bloodbath is he prepared to unleash on his own people in delaying the inevitable?

Like Gaddafi - Assad has benefitted for too long from tacit and explicit support from democratic leaders and their advisers whose belief in 'strongmen' to hold the middle East together has been proved an abject failure in terms of delivering more democracy, freedom or peace.

17 November 2011

Hearts face end game

Scottish Premier League football club Hearts face a fight for their existence as owner Vladimir Romanov vows to put the club - along with two other East European teams - up for sale. With the club mired in more than £30 million debt and the players failing to be paid on time for the second month in a row it is clear major cash flow problems exist in the Romanov empire.

The prospects of a quick sale look remote and with Romanov desperate to maximuise whatever return he can on his investment Hearts fans ought to be very concerned for the very existence of their club. The only asset the club can point to is the ground - which even in these economically difficult times is still worth several million and its sale would allow Romanov to cut his losses.

But the most bizarre thing about the announcement is Romanov's statement that he wishes to leave football and go into the theatre. And it's all at the start of the pantomime season...

15 November 2011

Wentworth Court residents should welcome Phylis Dixie plaque

The beeb reports that residents of Wentworth Court, St Mark's Hill, Surbiton are objecting to English Heritage's plan to award the building a blue plaque. The reason? Because it is in recognition of the woman who introduced striptease to the UK - Phylis Dixie - who lived there in the 1930s.

Now I have some local knowledge of St Mark's Hill and it is famous for being the road that gets you to Surbiton Station quickly. Now Surbiton Station is not without its architectural merits:

Wentworth Court however is not:

But that is not the issue. Dixie deserves a blue plaque - she is as iconic in the history of British smut as Sid James or Barbara Windsor. Both of whom - no doubt - residents of Wentworth Court would badger their local MP, Edward Davey, to recognise.

The sad fact is that Phylis Dixie's career post the second world war slumped and she died in penuary aged just 50 from cancer. But she did get to star in one movie - opposite Herbert Lom - this rather good blog tells more.

12 November 2011

The crassness of Clegg's nursery launch

Tonight's London Evening Standard reports what should be unalloyed good news that toddlers from poor backgrounds will be guaranteed a nursery place. And it's thanks to the Lib Dems that it is happening at all.

So why ruin it with this utterly crass statement 'that free education for toddlers from the most disadvantaged homes will now be a right and not a privilege.'

It's student union posturing at its worst (and wrong - toddlers are not educated - they play) - and if this is a result of the sort of outputs of Clegg's strengthened team of seven new tax payer funded advisors, then he (and us) are wasting our money.

11 November 2011

Friday favourite 32

It's the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the eleventh year...

Are Coombe Vale Conservatives treating voters?

A suspiciously shiny website promoting the virtues of the Conservatives in the Coombe Vale area has come to my attention. From what I can gather it was launched on Wednesday. The news section for example has no news of the reasons for the resignations of two thirds of the councillors for the ward, but you can adopt a tree instead - if it makes you feel better.

Most interestingly the local Conservatives - according to their twitter feed - appear to be bribing voters with coffee and cake - known in the archaic jargon of elections as 'treating'. Treating is an offence under the Representation of the People Act 1983 which carries a punishment of six months’ imprisonment, or a £5,000 fine or both.

Is this a record for the fastest ever commiting of an election offence?

8 November 2011

The curious case of the Coombe Vale by-election...

Last week Coombe Vale Ward in Kingston Borough had three Conservative councillors. Then one was exposed by the local paper - the wonderfully named Surrey Comet - for working full time in the USA and not attending any council meetings since 14th July. Yet Cllr Tasker still found time to claim £2,500 allowances from the taxpayer.

But instead of taking action - the Tories backed errant councillor Tasker explaining 'he had been carrying out constituency work while he was away, via email and telephone.' That was 8am on Friday 28th October.

By 5.11pm on Tuesday 1st November the paper reported he'd resigned.

Their report said a Conservative spokesman refused to confirm the resignation of Counc Tasker, but the councillor’s photograph and contact details have now been removed from the council website.

Well that seemed to be that then - a botched resignation for a politician whose position had become untenable.

However that wasn't that and on Monday afternoon a second Conservative councillor - James Whyte - in the same ward mysteriously resigned.

There will now be a double by-election for their replacements on 15th December. That is assuming there are no more resignations in the next few days. And one can only sympathise with Coombe Vale voters who may just wonder what exactly is going on behind the scenes in Kingston Conservatives that have lead to this bizarre turn of events.

7 November 2011

38 Degrees in vote rigging scandal?

This post and comments from George Potter's blog claims the people behind 38 degrees are manipulating their web voting system to get the results they want.

I'm not surprised if this is true - any organisation set up on the basis of populism - from whatever strand of the political spectrum - is always going to face the dilemma of what happens when you're out populist by others.

In issues like these I'm always reminded of Gaitskell's put down of Nye Bevin - 'Nye that's not a policy it's an emotional spasm'.

4 November 2011

Friday favourite 31

I was going to post something about bonfire night, but couldn't find anything on YouTube that didn't involve the overrated Katy Perry. So in memory of Guy Fawkes who tried to blow up the House of Commons 306 years ago tomorrow - here's Talking Heads with Burning Down the House...

Where now for the Scottish Tories?

The news that David Cameron's candidate has won the Leadership of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party could prove a watershed for the party and Scottish politics.

For the best part of a quarter of century the Tories have been considered toxic in Scotland - and part of the Lib Dems current struggle north of the border is simply our association with them in coalition at Westminster - a body increasingly marginal to the lives of most Scots.

Over the years the Tories have tried almost everything to re-establish themselves - more right wing policies, less right wing policies, blank sheets of paper and open policy making, supporting Alex Salmond and the SNP, opposing Alex Salmond and the SNP and none of it has worked.

Ruth Davidson represents more of this same headless chickenry - running around hoping that they randomly stumble across a game changer. Murdo Fraser at least recognised that a strategic rethink was required - even if he didn't communicate how a new Scottish right of centre party that took the Westminster Tory whip would (and could) be considered any different from the current arrangement.

But from what I hear his defeat has left those who want to try a radically different strategy disillusioned and with little hope of ever winning the argument in the confines of the current Scottish Tory straightjacket.

Cicero - who I had a pleasant, albeit brief lunch with earlier this week, in an interesting post, reckons this could be the end of the once great Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party. Whatever the outcome - politics north of the border is set to get even more interesting.

Now Lithuanian claims for bail out at G20 in Cannes

News just in from Hibs.net that Hearts owner - Lithuanian national Vladimir Romanov has been spotted asking for a handout at Cannes. Yesterday Hearts were forced to pay half a million tax (on the threat of being wound up by the Revenue), told their highest paid players to look for new jobs and still failed to pay the first team. Ukio Bank (also owned by Romanov) was marked down by the markets as a result of its Greek exposure.

3 November 2011

Did Dave Prentis really admit this?

The Evening Standard this afternoon carried a quote in its print edition from UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis, that 'we had worked hard to get our members to vote yes to strike action'. But sadly I cannot find it online.

Assuming I remembered it correctly this is a revealing admission. It shows the current trade union leadership is not interested in properly representing their members - instead they want to pursue a political vendetta against the government. Prentis and his well paid (and well pensioned) cronies among trade union leaders are very keen to repeat the mantra of 'ideologically driven' cuts. But it is clear there's only one side in this dispute being ideological - and that is the trade unions.

The sad thing is that ordinary trade union members are being appallingly badly served by their leaders ideological and political posturing.

1 November 2011

Economically illiterate, politically naive and fundamentally irrresponsible...

...that's my view of the 10 Liberal Democrats who put their name to a Guardian letter supporting the frankly bonkers Compass think tank's 'plan B'.

The plan is crazy - calling for a UK tobin tax on banking transactions. It also calls for rises in benefits to help those on 'low and middle incomes' and additional quantitative easing (presumably on top of that just announced by the Bank of England). And finally for an end to all public spending cuts and job losses. And the report is unspecific about how much this would cost - but presumably it would be a lot more than the additional tax revenues (if any) so created.

Liberals shouldn't be arguing for a welfare state so bloated it encompasses those on middle incomes - nor for a tax that without coordinated international action is guaranteed to send the finance sector offshore.

And as for the idea that the public sector has contracted over the past year - today's growth figures reveal the government and other services sector grew by 0.5% in Q3 of 2011. Full details can be found here. In fact over the next four years government spending is set to rise by £40bn.

And by going public in the way they have the 10 Lib Dems have allowed themselves to become Labour's patsies and have given the media the opportunity to embarrass the party and create division where none exist. Some of the 10 ought to know better whereas Linda Jack and Richard Grayson have form.

The irony is that the 10 are some of those who have argued for a looser 'supply and confidence' arrangement instead of full blown coalition with the Conservatives. Under these circumstances the party would have been expected to support a Tory only budget - rather than one with strong Lib Dem strands running through it.